The last chapter of the Royal fairy tale

The Windsors are behaving as if a revolution is taking place outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. And they may be right
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The mood of the times is volatile, unprecedented and unpredictable. What on earth does all this mean, commentators and politicians are asking one another? Where does it go from here?

Out there on the streets, queuing through the night for eight hours, these are not the usual royal freaks who camp out for any wedding, jubilee or coronation. These are not readers of Majesty who can quote every royal birthday. Many of them are surprised by their feelings. "I'm not much of a royalist but ..." " I was never interested in the royals, but ..." Even in newsrooms, hardened old cynics are swept off their feet. Is this just a strange example of global hysteria?

The Royal Family are plainly at a loss to read the meaning of all this. They are behaving as if a revolution is taking place outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. And they may be right. Hiding away in their Balmoral fastness, it is as if they dare not face the people, cannot fathom the mood and they fear that it could turn nasty. For there is a growing groundswell of indignation out there. Where is the Queen? Why has she sent not one word of a message of regret, sorrow or condolence with anyone, not least her subjects? Why does no flag fly at half-mast over the Palace? Yes, the cognoscenti know that's because she is not in residence. But why is she not in residence? Dead bodies may not require company, but people are saying that Diana has been abandoned, left alone in her coffin with the mourners in the Mall.

She who stripped Diana of her HRH seems not to trust herself to the mercy of the masses, spilling out their hearts and flowers at her gates. Her life of frozen duty, stony faced and grim, may be admirable and full of noble self-sacrifice, but those qualities are out of fashion. Now people blame her for being a mother who put her duty above motherhood, keeping up appearances against all emotion, and they blame her for the miserable, contorted, agonised heir she raised.

How are she and Prince Charles to compose their faces through this ordeal? Weeping looks like hypocrisy, but dry eyes look as if they feel less than their subjects. Already the unforgiving public blame the monarchy for Diana's pathetic love-lorn life. They took a young 19-year-old into their dysfunctional family, used her as brood mare and ejected her when she couldn't bear it.

Joining the monarchy is seen now by the people as something akin to marrying into the Adams family. Hardly surprising they all divorce. Feminists at the time of the wedding wore badges proclaiming "Don't Do It Di!". Now the people on the streets feel they were cynically manipulated with the pageantry of an empty "fairy-tale" marriage.

That may be brutally unfair. Diana was not a simple young thing. She was already deeply neurotic herself. The one thing she shared with Prince Charles, disastrously, was a calamitous childhood. But she is dead and pitied while Charles has to stand out there and shoulder the blame. The Diana myth is that the monarchy killed her. And now they fear the monarchy will destroy her sons too. The monarchy is turning into the people's enemy.

That may all be complete nonsense, but that is what a lot of the people in the crowds are saying, loudly. It's what the phone-ins are saying. Royal reality is whatever the people think it is. The myth is all. They have created the dead Diana in their image and they are busily remaking their view of the Royal Family in her shadow.

Royalty only exists as an emblem. It has no substance, no role, no objective reality. As Diana so naffly put it, they have to be kings and queens of the people's hearts, or they are nothing. There were deeply unpopular monarchs in the past - but those days are gone. The monarchy, surrounded by European republics, is here only on the people's sufferance now.

People are not much interested in dry issues of constitutional reform. There is no significant republican political project. But what if they take against the Royal Family as individuals? What if they dislike the heartless institution that destroys those who marry into it or are brought up in it? Out there in the streets, they may be turning against the monarchy itself.

Commentators have been asking what the monarchy can do to make itself loved again? How can the Queen make herself more like Diana, less like her frigid Christmas messages? No number of Saatchis or Mandelsons can spin a new story for them. Can they send Charles out hugging lepers, kissing babies at Great Ormond Street, laughing with children and old folk, weeping with the sick? It's too late to retrain his shy and awkward body language. No, the royal advisers will pin their hopes on poor young William. After all he looks like his mother. But the chance of him growing up in Buckingham Palace balanced, happy and sane seem remote, if not impossible. The mad media frenzy will never abate.

So what should happen now? Charles is a sensitive, thoughtful, if tortured soul. If he has been tormenting himself in recent days with guilt and regret, then he should look to his sons and wonder how they at least can be saved from his fate.

There is only one brave and noble thing left for him to do. He must call an end to this pointless, painful, ignominious charade. In a few months' time he should renounce the Crown. He should recommend that the monarchy ends with his mother's life. The country should prepare itself to become a modern republic at a measured dignified pace, whenever that may be. After all, the Queen may live as long as her mother. Charles could be 75 when she dies and William 40. What are they to do with their lives, beyond suffer in public all these royal humiliations?

And for the rest of us, are we to live with the fairy tale turned nightmare forever? We are infantilised by our obsession with this meaningless family and their myths. Moving though it is to see the whole world in tears, there is also something gravely distressing about such extravagant outpouring of passion and emotion on so empty a vessel as the Royal Family. Not even Dunblane caused such a national paroxysm. The pathos of Diana's story is dreadfully sad and the sight of her bereft children will be terrible to behold at the funeral. But the kindest thing for them would be to set them free from our unreasonable, insatiable emotional demands on them. Charles must know that better than anyone.

But it is we too who need setting free. It is time to grow up, into the 21st century, time to put aside childish things. We cannot live forever expending so much attention and emotion on myths and phantasms of no significance. It demeans us. It demeans them. The anger of the people on the streets against the monarchy may be unfair, but perhaps at last it will break the spell and set us all free.